Serving clergy are afraid to ‘come out’

I EXPECT many of your readers are exercised one way or the other about the current sexuality issue dividing members of the Church of Ireland.

This will come to a head at the Church of Ireland’s General Synod in Dublin as it debates matters relating to the Church’s acceptance of its gay and lesbian members, including clergy of same-sex orientation.

While it is well known that the Church has always had its gay clergy, many of whom have been great pastors and teachers, it is also a fact that serving clergy are reluctant to “come out” for fear of rejection, and that “homophobia” in some parts of the Church means they have good reason for this fear. (This is also true of Church members who are gay or lesbian.)

The recent Conference on Human Sexuality called by the bishops in Cavan enabled participants to listen to one another’s views on these matters and to realise that the Church needed to engage in a deliberate and intentional “listening process”, so that all Church members could prayerfully consider the issues in dialogue with those with whom they might disagree – and in particular with gay and lesbian individuals, who were seriously under-represented at the conference.

The point was made repeatedly that this listening and mutually respectful dialogue needed to take place before the Church proceeded to any final decisions in this area.

Many Synod members are now dismayed to be faced with a motion affirming in very strong terms the Church’s teaching on faithful lifelong marriage as the “only normative” context for sexual intercourse.

While this is indeed the traditional teaching of the Church, its regulations have become less rigorous, with the remarriage of divorced persons allowed under certain circumstances, and the practice of engaged couples living together before marriage widely accepted by clergy.

Now there is fear that this motion, if passed in its present form, will be used as a stick to beat those who accept the ministry of gay men and women, as well as the gay clergy themselves.

To assist discussion at the Synod, SEARCH – a C of I Journal is pre-publishing three articles deriving from the Cavan conference which will be available at the General Synod today.

Many of us are hoping that common sense will prevail to the extent of postponing any formal agreement on the issues, other than committing the Church to promote in every diocese in Ireland truly open dialogue in which homosexual people will be offered a safe space to share their experience, their thinking and their feelings of alienation from Church life.

If this is not done, we will lose many faithful followers of Christ from the ministry, worship and witness of the Church.

Ginnie Kennerley (Canon)

Editor, SEARCH – a C of I Journal